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The Assyrian Heartland 

Friedhelm Pedde 

1 Introduction 

The Assyrian heartland extends along the river Tigris, from the region of the 
modern town of Eski Mosul and the site of Khorsabad (ancient Dur-Sharrukin) 
in the north to the Lesser Zab river and the site of Assur in the south. The 
border in the east may be drawn somewhere around the modern town of Erbil, 
whereas there is no clear boundary in the steppe to the west. Today the center 
of this ancient landscape is Mosul. Because of its geographical position and favo- 
rable climate, with sufficient rainfall for rain-fed agriculture, large parts of Assyria 
consist of rich farmland. Other parts are covered with grass and offer good condi- 
tions for breeding livestock. In antiquity the hills were covered with trees. These 
favorable conditions explain why Assyria was settled from the Neolithic period 
onwards, as the evidence from Nineveh clearly shows. Assur was already occupied 
by the mid-3rd millennium BC (Early Dynastic III period) when a temple of the 
goddess Ishtar is attested. During the Akkadian period in the late 3rd millennium 
BC, the name of the settlement Assur is recorded for the first time. The ancestors 
of the Assyrians were nomads who came from the steppe in the west and settled 
first at Assur. It is unclear when this happened, but in the early 2nd millennium 
BC Assur was the home of Assyrian-spealdng merchants who developed a network 
of business establishments extending from Babylonia and the Iranian mountains 
to northern Syria and central Anatolia, trading in metals and textiles. Assur's 

A Companion to the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, First Edition. 

Edited by D.T. Potts. 

© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Published 2012 by Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 

852 The Archaeology of Empire 

location enabled the town to control the trade routes in all directions, and the 
fertile plains in the north and east supplied its inhabitants with their basic needs. 

It was not until the Middle Assyrian period, in the 14th century BC, that the 
heartland of Assyria became a united realm with its capital at Assur. Apart from 
the reign of Tukulti-Ninurta I (1243-1207 BC), who tried to establish a new 
residence at Kar-Tukulti-Ninurta (modern Tulul al-'Aqir), Assur remained the 
capital of Assyria until the 9th century BC. Assurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) built 
new palaces at Assur, Nineveh, and several other cities, but moved to Nimrud, 
where a new, much larger residence was erected. Still, Assur remained the seat 
of the national god Assur, visited on occasion by all Assyrian kings. The palace 
at Nimrud was the king's domicile until Sargon II (721-705 BC) decided to build 
a palace at Dur-Sharrukin (modern Khorsabad). After his violent death his son 
Sennacherib (704-681 BC) moved to Nineveh and built his own "palace without 
rival." In these centuries the Assyrians controlled the Fertile Crescent - the 
Levantine coast, northern Syria, the southern regions of the Anatolian mountains 
- as well as the western regions of the Iranian highlands and Mesopotamia. In 
the 7th century BC even Egypt was conquered (Ch. 11.44). 

The Assyrian heartland was poor in mineral resources. Material and labor 
shortages in Assyria were the main motivations for the many military campaigns 
of the Assyrian kings in all directions. These constant campaigns and their cruel- 
ties against the inhabitants of the subjugated countries were part of a military 
strategy and the basis of the Assyrian economic system, which functioned for as 
long as resources in the surrounding countries could be exploited. This system 
of war and tribute is the main topic of the pictorial representations on the Assyr- 
ian reliefs, obelisks, wall paintings, and decorated gates. The second main topic 
is the king as hunter. In all cases the political intention was to demonstrate the 
power of the Assyrian long. 

All Assyrian capitals were located in the Assyrian heartland. For military and 
economic reasons, the Assyrian towns in the heartland were well connected by 
roads. The towns were surrounded by a network of smaller towns and villages 
and it is assumed that many settlements must have existed - e.g., around the 
little modern town of Mahmur in the hinterland of Assur and Kar-Tukulti- 
Ninurta. Though there have been some archaeological surveys and excavations 
in different regions - e.g., around Makhmur and in the Eski-Mosul district - the 
extent of Middle and Neo-Assyrian settlement has never been fully investigated. 
Furthermore, distortions in our understanding of Assyrian settlement have been 
introduced with respect to excavated as opposed to unexcavated areas at Assyrian 
sites. In the Assyrian capitals, those areas with official buildings have been exam- 
ined to a much greater extent than those with residential quarters, and comparing 
capitals with smaller settlements is difficult because the latter have barely been 

Nineveh remained the capital until 612 BC when, after endless revolts, the 
empire was destroyed by a coalition of Medes and Babylonians. Traces of destruc- 

The Assyrian Heartland 853 

tion are found not only in the capitals, but also at smaller sites in Assyria. 
However, in most cases there are signs of continuity over the subsequent few 
generations. The immediately post-Assyrian period is the subject of ongoing 

2 Assur 

Assur (Assur/ Ashur, modern Qalat Sherqat), the first capital of the Assyrian 
empire, is situated on the west bank of the Tigris, about 110 kilometers south 
of Mosul. Brief excavations were conducted in 1847 and 1850 by A.H. Layard 
and H. Rassam, who did not realize that Qalat Sherqat was ancient Assur. Sys- 
tematic excavations were carried out by a German expedition under W. Andrae 
(in 1903-14) and later by R. Dittmann (in 1988-9), B. Hrouda (in 1990) and 
PA. Miglus (in 2000-1). In addition, the Department of Antiquities of Iraq has 
worked there intermittently since 1979. 

Andrae was able to open large areas, especially in the northern part of the site, 
exposing the temples of Ami and Adad, Sin and Shamash, and Ishtar and Nabu, 
as well as the Old Palace, the Assur/Enlil ziggumt (stepped temple tower), and 
the Assur temple. Living quarters were found to the northwest and south of the 
temple area (Miglus 1996), as well as a double city wall with bastions and gates. 
In contrast to the separated, official areas of the later capitals in Assyria, there 
were no fortifications dividing domestic from public quarters at Assur. 

Deep soundings in the Ishtar temple and the Old Palace reached layers of the 
Early Dynastic (2900-2350 BC), Akkadian (2350-2150 BC), and Ur III (2100- 
2000 BC) periods. In the Old Assyrian period Assur became the capital of the 
Assyrian state and the religious center with the temple of the "national" god 
Assur. The town is characterized by large structures: the " Schotterhofhau" (lit. 
"gravel courtyard building") under the Old Palace seems to have been a prestig- 
ious building (Miglus 1989; Pedde and Lundstrom 2008: 28-9), probably of 
the ruler Erishum I (1974-1935 BC). Later, the "Ur-Plari" (Pedde and Lund- 
strom 2008: 29-30) was laid out on this location: a large system of foundation 
trenches filled with mudbricks, probably the remains of the palace of Shamshi- 
Adad I (1813-1781 BC), who also built the Assur temple and the Enlil ziggurat. 
Because of the limited deep soundings, not very much is known about the living 
quarters, most of which were small houses with incomplete ground plans. Excep- 
tions are two large buildings, one from the Akkadian and one from the Ur III 
period. Graves and tombs were found, some of which had rich finds (Hockmann 

In the 16th century BC the systematic construction of the city's fortification 
wall (Miglus 2010) was a sign of political independence. At the end of the century 
Assur- nirari I built the temple of Sin and Shamash (Werner 2009) and the Old 
Palace. After a period of Mitanni rule, the Middle Assyrian Icing Assur-nadin-ahhe 

854 The Archaeology of Empire 

II (1400-1391 BC) rebuilt the palace. This and the fact that he received gold 
from the Egyptian pharaoh shows that Assur had regained its power. Between 
c.1400 and 1200 BC the Middle Assyrian kings conquered vast regions in north- 
ern Mesopotamia and northern Syria and Assur was one of the most important 
capitals in the Near East. The Old Palace was later renovated (Pedde and Lund- 
strom 2008: 32-7), especially under Adad-nirari I (1305-1274 BC). Tukulti- 
Ninurta I built his own palace (the New Palace) on a terrace in the northwestern 
part of the site and rebuilt the Ishtar temple. Tiglath-pileser I (1114-1076 BC) 
erected the temple of Anu and Adad with a double ziggurat. 

An unusual find consisted of two rows with stelae - an Assyrian calendar system 
- mentioning the names of the Assyrian kings and officials of the Assyrian state, 
beginning in the Middle Assyrian period with Eriba-Adad I (1390-1364 BC) and 
ending in the Neo-Assyrian period with the wife of Assurbanipal (668-627 BC). 
At least one king, Assur-bel-kala (1073-1056 BC), was buried in a tomb under 
the Old Palace. It is not known, however, where all the other kings from the 
earlier periods were entombed (Lundstrom 2009). 

In the Neo-Assyrian period Tukulti-Ninurta II (890-884 BC) decorated the 
Old Palace with glazed and painted brick orthostats, obviously the predecessors 
of the stone reliefs that are so typical of the later capitals. His son, Assurnasirpal 
II, moved to his new residence in Nimrud, and also completely renovated the 
Old Palace in Assur (Pedde and Lundstrom 2008: 37-58, 179-81), as well as 
building or renovating palaces throughout the country - e.g., at Nineveh and 
Imgur-Enlil (modern Balawat). He did not decorate the Old Palace with stone 
reliefs as he did at Nimrud, but clay hands and knob tiles were found in situ in 
the walls. The room layout seems to have been the model for all later Assyrian 
palaces, with an official part (Akkadian babanu) and a more private part (Aide. 
bltanu) separated by a wing, with the throne room and one or two rooms behind. 

Though no longer the center of the realm, the city of Assur remained the 
religious center of Assyria until the fall of the empire because it housed the temple 
of the god Assur, and some of the Neo-Assyrian longs, including Assurnasirpal, 
Shamshi-Adad V (823-811 BC) and Esarhaddon (680-669 BC), were buried 
underneath the Old Palace (Lundstrom 2009). As the town expanded to the 
southeast alongside the Tigris, a new city wall beyond the old one was erected 
in this period, first following the old city wall before turning to the south. South 
of the Assur temple, Assurnasirpal's son Shalmaneser III (858-824 BC) built a 
new palace, the East Palace. He renovated Assur's official buildings and fortifica- 
tions, as did Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Assurbanipal after him. Sennacherib 
erected a building for the New Year's celebration outside the city wall toward 
the northwest and a Prince's Palace for his son Assur-ili-bullit-su toward the 
southeast, near the river. 

In 614 BC Assur was conquered by the Medes under king Cyaxares (625-585 
BC). Official buildings were demolished and the tombs of the ldngs systematically 
destroyed. Some of the surviving inhabitants still lived in the ruins for one or 

The Assyrian Heartland 855 

two more generations, leaving behind only a few traces. Because of the collapse 
of Assyrian infrastructure, the town never recovered. In the following centuries 
Assur seems to have been an unimportant village, though it was mentioned by 
Cyrus the Great (559-530 BC), founder of the Persian empire. Apart from some 
pottery and Achaemenid and Seleucid coins, there is little trace of post-Assyrian 
occupation, although new excavations could change this. 

Not until the Parthian era (c.250 BC-AD 224) did the town experience a period 
of new period of prosperity (Andrae and Lenzen 1933). Six hundred years after 
the fall of Assyria, a new temple for Assur-Sherua was built in die traditional reli- 
gious precinct in the northeastern part of the site, along with several other temples 
and official buildings. Assur became the seat of a governor, whose large palace 
was situated in the south. Destroyed by the Sasanians under Shapur I (241-272 
AD), Assur was resettled in the 12th century AD, when it was called al-'Aqr. 

In the 11 years of Andrae's work, 44,000 objects were registered. After the 
end of the excavation, the finds were divided between the Ottoman Empire and 
Germany and taken to the Vorderasiatisches (Pergamon) Museum in Berlin 
and the Eski Sark Miizesi in Istanbul. Though the architecture and a remarkable 
number of texts were published in the following years, few of the objects were 
examined. More recendy, the Assur Projects in Berlin and Heidelberg have been 
studying and publishing the finds, texts, and architecture in a series published by 
the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft (German Oriental Society). These volumes 
cover cuneiform inscriptions on clay (Pedersen 1985, 1986; Faist 2005, 2007; 
Freydank and Feller 2004, 2005, 2008; Freydank 2006; Frahm 2009; Maul and 
Heefiel 2010) and stone (Pedersen 1997); the architecture of the palaces 
and temples (Pedde and Lundstrom 2008; Werner 2009, Schmitt in press); 
tombs and graves (Lundstrom 2009; Hockmann 2010; Pedde 2010, in press a); 
and objects, like pottery (Hausleiter 2010f), obelisk fragments (Orlamiinde 
2011), orthostats (Orlamiinde and Lundstrom 2011), doorkeeper figures, knob 
tiles (Nunn 2006), alabaster vessels (Onasch 2010), objects of ivory and bone 
(Wicke 2010), mace heads (Muhle in press), terracotta and lead, and seals and 

3 Kar-Tukulti-Ninurta (Tulul al-'Aqar) 

Kar-Tukulti-Ninurta lies 3 kilometers north of Assur, on the east bank of the 
Tigris. Excavations were conducted in 1913-14 by W. Bachmann, a member of 
the Assur expedition. Although Bachmann never published his results in full, the 
results of the old excavations have been summarized (see Eickhoff 1985). Renewed 
excavations took place under R. Dittmann in 1986 and 1989 (Dittmann et al. 
1988, 1989-90; Dittmann 1992). 

Kar-Tukulti-Ninurta was founded by the Middle Assyrian long Tukulti-Ninurta 
I as his new residence, but abandoned shortly after his violent death. The city 

856 The Archaeology of Empire 

consisted of different quarters. The official, fortified part was divided by a wall into 
an eastern and a western section. Two modern villages cover the eastern quarter, 
which remains largely uninvestigated as a result. In the western section several 
public buildings were found. In the northern area, close to the city wall and the 
river, parts of a large building, called the "North Palace" and "South Palace," were 
excavated. The North Palace is an entrance complex of three main rooms, each 
one behind the other, and some more rooms. The gate of the main outer room is 
flanked by bastions, while the inner room leads to a courtyard. The walls of this 
building stood 7-8 meters high. This seems to be part of the "South Palace" on 
a high terrace with large rooms. Both complexes had plaster decorated with 
colored geometric, vegetal, and figural motifs. Inscribed bricks identify this build- 
ing as the palace of Tukulti-Ninurta I. A temple of Assur with a ziggurat is situated 
to the southeast of the terrace. The ziggurat was erected first and the temple was 
added on its northeastern (front) side. The cella was built directly adjacent to the 
ziggurat and its niche even projects into it. Several niches in the large room at 
the front were interpreted as places of worship for other gods. Dittmann excavated 
a small temple north of the North Palace (Tell O), but the identity of the god 
worshipped there remains unknown. Cuneiform texts, pottery, and clay hands 
indicate that the site was resettled in the Neo-Assyrian period. 

4 Nimrud (Kalhu, Biblical Calah) 

In the 9th and 8th centuries BC, Nimrud was the capital of the Assyrian empire. 
Located 35 kilometers south of Mosul, on the east bank of the Tigris close to 
the Greater Zab, it sits halfway between Assur and Nineveh. Nimrud was visited 
in 1820 by C.J. Rich, and the first excavations were carried out there in 1845-7 
and 1849-51 by A.H. Layard and H. Rassam, who thought they had found 
Nineveh (Layard 1849a, 1849b). They excavated in several palaces (the North- 
west, Southwest, Southeast and Central Palaces) as well as in the temples of 
Sharrat-niphi and Ninurta. In 1854-5 W.K. Loftus reinvestigated most of these 
palaces, along with the Burnt Palace and the Nabu temple. Between 1877 and 
1879 Rassam again investigated the Southeast Palace, the Central Palace and the 
Nabu temple (Rassam 1897). These early excavations all recovered spectacular 
finds, including stone slabs (orthostats) with reliefs and over-lifesize, standing 
winged bulls, some of which can be seen in the British Museum. Moreover, 
Layard, Rassam, and Loftus all wrote popular books for the public about their 
work. Layard's Nineveh and Its Remains became an international bestseller and 
was translated into many languages, sparking interest in the general public in the 
Ancient Near East. On the other hand, the excavators did not document their 
results very well, from today's point of view. 

Some 70 years later a British team began systematic excavations (1949-63) 
under the direction of M.E.L. Mallowan, D. Oates, and J. Orchard (Mallowan 

The Assyrian Heartland 857 

1966). Later excavations were undertaken by a Polish team under J. Meuszynski 
(1974-6), an Italian team under P. Fiorina (1987-9) and again by a British team 
under J. Curtis and D. Collon (1989). The Department of Antiquities of Iraq 
has also worked at Nimrud since 1956 (Oates 2001). 

Although traces of prehistoric settlement dating to the Halaf period and 
Middle Assyrian construction by Shalmaneser I (1273-1244 BC) are attested, it 
was not until Assurnasirpal II moved his residence from Assur to Nimrud that 
the site became one of the most important capitals in the ancient Near East. 
Assurnasirpal II ordered work on a new city wall, about 8 kilometers long, as 
well as a new palace (the Northwest Palace) on the citadel mound of the old 
setdement. This was inaugurated in 864 BC, only a few years before the king 
died. The arrangement of the courtyards and rooms resembles the Old Palace at 
Assur and both palaces were the prototypes of many of the later Assyrian palaces. 

The Northwest Palace consists of three parts. The first part is a large courtyard 
(c.90 x 60 m) with a row of rooms in the north. The main gate in the east, the 
court itself and the western side have been destroyed by erosion. The throne 
room is located on the south side, beyond which comes the second part of the 
palace. In the center of this part lies a courtyard, surrounded by official rooms 
and chambers. The doorways of the large rooms were flanked by pairs of lamas- 
sus, human-headed winged figures with the body of a lion or a bull. The throne 
room, the courtyard, and all the state apartments were decorated inside and 
outside with many hundreds of large, originally colored relief orthostats depicting 
the Icing, his attendants, winged genii, and scenes of war and hunting. Most 
of the reliefs are inscribed in the center with the so-called "standard inscription" 
mentioning the long's titles and achievements (Meuszynski 1981; Paley and 
Sobolewski 1987, 1992). South of this official area lies the private domestic 
quarter, excavated by British and later Iraqi archaeologists. There Mallowan 
found the grave of a royal woman and the Iraqi team discovered three partly 
reused tombs containing a further 16 individuals and very rich grave goods 
(Damerji 1999). As some of the inscribed finds reveal, four Neo-Assyrian queens 
- the wives of Assurnasirpal II, Tiglath-pileser III (744-727 BC), Shalmaneser V 
(726-722 BC) and Sargon II - were buried here. All these burials were hidden 
under the floors of unpretentious-looking rooms. 

The Northwest Palace continued in use during the reigns of Shalmaneser III 
and Shamshi-Adad V. Later, when Adad-nirari III (810-783 BC) and Tiglath- 
pileser III built their own palaces at Nimrud, and even after Sargon II moved his 
residence to Khorsabad, the Northwest Palace continued to be a very important 
building, as the royal burials demonstrate. Sargon filled its storerooms with 
tribute and treasure, and from there he prepared his removal to Khorsabad. 
Under Sennacherib and his successors, the palace lost its importance; Esarhaddon 
took away some of its orthostats to decorate his own new palace, the Southwest 
Palace. But the palace remained in use until 612 BC, when Nimrud was sacked 
and, afterwards, parts of it were inhabited by squatters. 

858 The Archaeology of Empire 

In addition to the Northwest Palace, Assurnasirpal II founded and renovated 
several temples. In the northwestern corner of the citadel he and his son Shal- 
maneser III (858-824 BC) erected a ziggumt, and between this and the palace 
he built a temple for Ninurta. This suggests that the ziggurat was dedicated to 
Ninurta as well. The entrances of the temple were flanked by a pair of 5 meter 
high lamassus, comparable in size only to those at the main entrance to the 
Northwest Palace. A magazine with rows of large jars was discovered, as well as 
a vaulted, blocked corridor containing hundreds of beads and many cylinder seals 
which had been deposited under the floor and date to the middle of the 
2nd millennium BC. East of the Ninurta temple a temple for the goddess 
Ishtar was rebuilt by Assurnasirpal. Its entrance was flanked by two lions and its 
interior was decorated with glazed knob tiles. 

Another building erected by Assurnasirpal II - probably a temple - was the 
so-called Central Building, excavated in the 19th century. Some relief slabs and 
parts of four doorkeeper figures were found, but only a small part of the building 
was documented. South of this, a statue and two obelisks were discovered: the 
Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III and fragments of an obelisk of Assurnasirpal II 
known as the Rassam Obelisk. 

Situated in the southeastern part of the site, the Burnt Palace has a trapezoidal 
ground plan. Built in the Middle Assyrian period, it was completely renovated 
under Assurnasirpal or Shalmaneser, rebuilt again by Adad-nirari III, and later 
used by Sargon II. In the reign of Adad-nirari III, mudbrick boxes containing 
small, protective figures were deposited under the doors and at the corners of 
the building. A great number of high-quality ivory objects were found here, pre- 
dating the destruction in 612 BC. 

The wing of another palace of Shalmaneser III, the Southeast Palace, was 
preserved in the southeastern corner of the citadel. Two large rooms and some 
adjacent chambers represent a further throne room module, comparable to that 
found in the Northwest Palace and in the Old Palace in Assur. Another vast, 
unusual structure built by Shalmaneser and later renovated by Esarhaddon lies 
at the southeastern edge of the outer town. It is an arsenal incorporating a palace, 
and was called "Fort Shalmaneser" by the British team that began work there in 
1957 (Mallowan 1966). Because no orthostats were found at Fort Shalmaneser, 
the building was of no interest to 19th century excavators and later archaeologists 
were therefore fortunate in discovering untouched structures and a great number 
of objects. The building was something like a military headquarters with an empty 
space in the north and the west, which may have been a training ground for 
troops. Fort Shalmaneser consists of three large courtyards, separated by a double 
row of rooms, including residential suites, workshops for chariots and many other 
objects, and storage magazines. In the southeastern corner a royal palace was 
erected with the standard large throne room suite plus two additional courtyards. 
The throne base in the throne room deserves particular mention. It consists of 
two slabs of limestone, the sides of which are decorated in relief, showing Shal- 

The Assyrian Heartland 859 

maneser three times. The front relief presents a unique gesture: Shalmaneser 
(right) "shakes" the hand of the Babylonian Icing Marduk-zakir-shumi (left). The 
text above the relief reports that Shalmaneser restored the Babylonian long to 
the throne after a revolt. On the left and right side of the throne base, Shalma- 
neser is shown receiving tribute from a Syrian ruler and from Chaldaean tribes. 
These scenes are best compared with the reliefs on the Assyrian obelisks and the 
Balawat gates. The wing behind the audience room consists of three large recep- 
tion rooms and might have been the prototype of similar arrangements in Sar- 
gon's palace at Khorsabad. West of the state apartments was a residential quarter, 
consisting of several courtyards surrounded by a single or double row of rooms, 
recalling the Northwest Palace and the Old Palace at Assur. 

Adad-nirari III built a palace very close to the walls of the southern edge of 
the Northwest Palace. In 1993 this was discovered by an Iraqi team under the 
direction of Muzahim Mahmud Hussein in the area where Layard had found a 
structure decorated with elaborated frescoes called the "Upper Chambers." 
Although these chambers cannot be located today, they were probably part of 
Adad-nirari's palace. North of the Burnt Palace, a large, pardy excavated building 
called the Governor's Palace might have been built by the same Icing. It consists 
of an almost square courtyard, surrounded by a double row of rooms decorated 
with frescoes. This building may have been an important administrative office or 
residence. To the south of it and east of the Burnt Palace lies the temple of the 
scribal god Nabu, originally erected in the 9th century, but completely rebuilt 
under Adad-nirari. 

The largest building in the southeastern part of the citadel mound was exca- 
vated by Loftus and Rassam and later investigated by the British and Iraqi teams. 
The entrance on the northern side is called the Fish Gate because of the flanking 
fishmen figures. The courtyard behind the gate leads to a building on the right 
for the long. Behind the entrance to this complex lies a smaller court with access 
to a throne room and some chambers in the usual pattern, as well as two rooms 
which seem to be a smaller version of the sanctuaries reserved for the king. Carved 
ivories of extraordinary quality were found here. These had decorated the throne 
room, the throne itself, and other furniture. Some show tribute scenes compa- 
rable to those on the orthostats and obelisks. The main court has another gate 
in the south, flanked by 4 meter high attendants, leading to a second court of 
the same size and a double sanctuary for the god Nabu and his wife Tashmetum 
(?) with antechambers and slightly raised, stepped podiums. In one of the rooms 
on the eastern side of the court a library, as well as indications that cuneiform 
tablets were written there, were found. The library contained literary texts and 
royal inscriptions, including the so-called "vassal" treaties of Esarhaddon. 

Tiglath-pileser III built a palace in the central part of the citadel, the so-called 
Central Palace (Barnett and Fallcner 1962). It is likely that the older buildings 
here, like the Central Building, were pulled down at this time. According to the 
king's own inscriptions, this palace must have been huge, but little of it remains. 

860 The Archaeology of Empire 

Originally it had been decorated with relief slabs, but about 50 years after it 
was built Esarhaddon, building his own palace at the time, began to remove 
not only the orthostats from the Northwest and Central Palaces - Layard found 
about 100 orthostats stacked up and ready for transportation - but even the 

Esarhaddon's palace was erected on the southwest corner of the mound and 
is therefore known as the Southwest Palace. Although planned on a grand scale, 
it was never completed. The only parts preserved are traces of a large courtyard 
and a huge complex of state apartments on the southern side of the court, con- 
sisting of two large halls with rooms on the short sides. The three main entrances 
were flanked by lamassus, facing north. The use of a pair of crouching sphinxes 
as column bases in two of the doorways is unique. In addition, pairs of round 
column bases stood on the short sides. 

Another official building, named "Town Wall Palace of Assurbanipal," was 
excavated between the citadel and Fort Shalmaneser. It consists of a typical recep- 
tion suite with adjacent rooms, and a probable domestic wing in which an inscrip- 
tion with Assurbanipal's name was found. 

Traces of destruction everywhere in the town show that Nimrud was attacked 
once and, before repair work could be completed, a second time. This probably 
occurred in 614 and 612 BC when the Assyrian empire was destroyed. 

5 Balawat (Imgur-Enlil) 

Balawat is located 15 kilometers northeast of Nimrud and 27 kilometers southeast 
of Nineveh on the road between Kirkuk and Nineveh. It was excavated by 
H. Rassam in 1878, M.E.L. Mallowan in 1956, and J. Curtis in 1989. The site 
is enclosed by a fortification wall 800 meters on a side. Excavations took place on 
the citadel mound (c.250 x 150 meters) in the northern part of the site. Surface 
sherds suggest the area was settled in the Ubaid and Northern Uruk periods, and 
perhaps again in the Middle Assyrian period. The main occupation dates to the 
Neo-Assyrian period, when Assurnasirpal II and his son Shalmaneser III (859-824 
BC) erected small palaces and a temple. As the pottery and cuneiform tablets show, 
Balawat seems to have been inhabited until the end of the Assyrian empire in 
614/612 BC with traces of reoccupation in the Hellenistic period. 

At the southwestern edge of the citadel, Rassam found parts of a palace. 
Although the area could not be excavated thoroughly, Rassam discovered two 
gates decorated with embossed bronze bands built by Assurnasirpal II (Gate A) 
(Curtis and Talks 2008: 23-46, Figs. 5-43) and Shalmaneser III (Gate C) (Sch- 
achner 2007) Another prominent building in the northeastern part of the site 
was the temple of Mamu, the god of dreams, built by Assurnasirpal. This con- 
sisted of a row of rooms with a courtyard in the center. At the gate leading from 
the court to the antechamber (Gate B), Mallowan excavated another pair of 

The Assyrian Heartland 861 

bronze bands (Curtis and Tallis 2008: 47-71, Figs. 46-90). Decorative bronze 
bands are also attested in Assurnasirpal IPs Northwest Palace at Nimrud (earlier 
than Balawat); the Anu Adad temple at Assur (Shalmaneser III); the temples of 
Adad, Nabu, and Shamash at Khorsabad (Sargon); and the Nergal temple at Tell 
Hadad/Hamrin (Assurbanipal). The Balawat bronze bands, however, are by 
far the best preserved. The three Balawat gates were all decorated with eight 
bands on each door showing scenes of hunting, war, and tribute, comparable to 
scenes on Assyrian reliefs and obelisks. The bands of the two palace gates are 
exhibited in the British Museum, whereas the bands of the Mamu temple, in the 
Mosul Museum, were partially looted in 2003. 

6 Khorsabad (Dur-Sharrukin) 

Located 20 kilometers northeast of Nineveh, Khorsabad was the new capital of 
Sargon II. The first excavations there were conducted by the French consul in 
Mosul, P.E. Botta (1843-4), who thought he had discovered Nineveh. The 
recovery of large stone orthostats decorated with Assyrian reliefs, their exhibition 
in the Louvre beginning in 1847, and the publication of the stone slabs and 
architecture by Botta and his draftsman E. Flandin (Botta and Flandin 1849-50; 
Albenda 1986) marked the beginnings of European interest in ancient Assyrian 
antiquities, and the French and British search for artifacts in that area. Botta's 
work was continued in 1852-4 by his successor as French consul, V. Place, who 
also found a large number of reliefs and statues. Fortunately these were drawn 
by the draftsman F. Thomas and photographed by G. Tranchard, for, in 1855, 
as the finds were being transported on rafts down the Tigris for eventual ship- 
ment to Paris, local Bedouin launched a raid during a sandstorm, the rafts sank, 
and all the slabs were lost. It took more than 70 years before new excavations 
were started. From 1929 to 1935 the Oriental Institute of Chicago, mainly under 
the direction of G. Loud, investigated three areas in the palace (Loud et al. 1936; 
Loud and Altman 1938). After 1957, shorter campaigns were conducted by the 
Iraqi Department of Antiquities under B. Abu al-Soof. 

It is not known why Sargon II decided to build a new residence. In the fifth 
year of his reign (717 BC), after choosing the location and compensating 
the local inhabitants, Sargon began construction. The work was carried out 
by the Assyrian army and civilians, as well as by prisoners-of-war and deportees 
who were afterwards forced to settle in the new city (Blocher 1997). Though 
the city still was under construction, Dur-Sharrukin was inaugurated in 706 BC. 

A massive city wall of mudbrick on stone foundations c.12 meters high, 14 
meters thick, and equipped with seven gates enclosed a rectangular area measur- 
ing 1,750 x 1,683 meters. On top of the wall two palaces were erected, one in 
the northwest and one in the southwest. The Northwest Palace is the kings's 
palace. It was built on a 12 meter high, irregularly shaped, trapezoidal terrace 

862 The Archaeology of Empire 

protruding beyond both sides of the wall and accessed by a ramp. The palace is 
a complex building measuring 290 meters on a side with two very large court- 
yards, a couple of smaller courtyards, and 207 rooms. The large courtyard XV is 
situated direcdy behind the main gate with one main and two minor entrances 
and some small apartments placed around it. In the southwest a small entrance 
leads to a complex of six temples (interpreted as a harem by Place) of the gods 
Sin, Shamash, Ningal, Ninurta, Ea, and Adad. Fragments of bronze bands with 
narrative scenes, comparable to those of the Balawat Gates, were found here. A 
narrow corridor led to a platform with a ziggurat (interpreted by Place as an 
observatory). On the northeast side of courtyard XV are four entrances to a large 
complex with many courtyards and rooms. In court XVIII and in the adjacent 
rooms 126-9 stone rings were fixed in the floor, perhaps for tying up horses. If 
this were the case, then the entire wing may have been stables and the other 
rooms storage magazines. On the northwest side, a gate with a double room led 
to the next large courtyard VIII. On its northeastern side, a single doorway 
led to a building which was originally planned as a temple but later changed to 
a wine cellar. At the front (southwest side) of courtyard VIII a triple entrance 
to the throne room was located, consisting of two minor doors and a main 
entrance, flanked by two enormous towers and decorated with lamassus, winged 
bulls with human faces that functioned as doorkeeper figures. The throne room 
measured 47 x 10.5 meters and the throne stood on a monolithic stone base 
(4 x 4.6 meters) on one of the short sides. Behind the throne room was a parallel 
room, followed by the square courtyard VI, which was flanked by a system of 
double rooms on each side. As in the Northwest Palace of Nimrud, these rooms 
have an official character and only those in the southeast seem to represent private 
quarters. Between this official part and the main courtyard XV lies a large complex 
of private rooms, probably the king's residential apartments, whereas on the 
opposite side in the northwest another official building with remarkable large 
rooms is located, surrounded by a huge terrace. These rooms were used for audi- 
ences and festivities. West of this large building complex stood a separate, badly 
preserved building with column bases. Most of the stone orthostats and statues 
found by the French archaeologists came from the official areas in the northern 
part of the terrace. The narrative scenes of the reliefs differ from wing to wing, 
depending on the function of the room. Mainly, they show scenes of war and 
tribute, a few feasts and hunting scenes and the transport of timber on a river. 

On the inner side of the city wall, beneath the terrace, were several very large 
buildings (H-M) separated from the town by an enclosing wall with two gates 
flanked by lamassu figures. This area has the same level as the area outside the 
wall, but was called a "citadel" by the excavators. The buildings in question were 
the residences of Assyrian notables. Between these buildings a temple for the god 
Nabu was erected on a separate terrace, accessible from the palace terrace by a 
bridge. This was the most important temple complex built by Sargon. 

The second building on the city wall, so-called "Palace F," was only partly 
excavated. It was believed to be the crown prince's palace, but has also been 

The Assyrian Heartland 863 

interpreted as an arsenal. Like Sargon's palace, the building stands on a terrace 
protruding beyond the inner and outer sides of the city wall. A large, central 
court is surrounded by different wings. A triple entrance with a gate in the center 
flanked by towers led to a throne room of similar size to that in the Northwest 
Palace. The throne room is integrated in a wing with two rows of parallel rooms. 
Close to the western corner of the Central Court, a gate led to a pillared portico, 
opening onto a large terrace (140 X 63 meters). Here a building with four 
banquet halls was erected. Its main entrance, also flanked by towers, corresponds 
with a similar entrance to the room behind the throne room. At the corners of 
this wing are two separate apartments, one of which has the same land of triple 
entrance as the throne room and might be the king's private living quarters. 

Only a few buildings in the city have been discovered. This may be because 
only limited excavations has been conducted outside the main palaces, or perhaps 
because only a small number of houses were ever built there in antiquity, because 
Sargon IPs died while on military campaign shortly after the inauguration of the 
city. Although Sargon's son Sennacherib abandoned his father's ambitious build- 
ing program and moved to Nineveh, Dur-Sharruldn remained a provincial capital 
until the end of the Assyrian empire. 

7 Nineveh 

In the 7th century BC Nineveh was the capital of the Neo-Assyrian empire. Situ- 
ated on the east bank of the Tigris across from Mosul, knowledge of Nineveh's 
existence lived on in Europe thanks to the Bible. The first known Western visitor 
there was Benjamin of Tudela, who wrote an account of it in 1178, though this 
was not published until 1543 in Constantinople. One of the many later travelers 
to mention Nineveh was Ibn Battuta (1327). The travels of C.J. Rich in 1820, 
published only in 1836, were a prelude to French and British excavations. P.E. 
Botta began work there in 1842, and between 1846 and 1852 the British 
Museum excavated under the direction of A.H. Payard and H. Rassam. Phey 
were succeeded by W.K. Poftus, and later, in 1931 and 1932, by R. Campbell 
Phompson and M.E.P. Mallowan, who resumed work there. In the 1960s the 
Iraqi Department of Antiquities excavated at Nineveh, while in the 1980s a team 
from the University of California (Berkeley) worked there briefly (Scott and 
Macginnis 1990; Matthiae 1998). Most of the excavations at Nineveh have taken 
place on the mound of Kuyunjik. Phe smaller mound of Nebi Yunus contains 
the ziggurat and Esarhaddon's arsenal, but has not been extensively investigated 
because, according to Islamic tradition, this is the site of the tomb of the prophet 

Mallowan's excavations reached virgin soil. Phe pre -Assyrian levels were called 
Ninevite 1 (6th millennium BC, Hassuna period) to 5 (early 3rd millennium 
BC). Campbell Phompson and Hutchinson worked in the temple of the goddess 
Ishtar (Campbell Phompson and Hutchinson 1932), where they discovered an 

864 The Archaeology of Empire 

inscription of the Old Assyrian Icing Shamshi-Adad I, who not only renovated 
the temple, but identified the Akkadian Icing Manishtushu (2269-2255 BC) as 
its founder. Though no architecture of the Akkadian period was identified, the 
bronze head of an Akkadian Icing, perhaps Naram-Sin (2254-2218 BC), was 
found. Later, the Middle Assyrian kings Assur-uballit I (1363-1328 BC), Shal- 
maneser I, and Assur-resh-ishi I (1132-1115 BC) rebuilt the temple as well as 
the ziggumt. In the Neo-Assyrian period, the temple was rebuilt by Assurnasir- 
pal II and Assurbanipal. In the area of the Ishtar temple, Rassam found two 
obelisks: the Broken Obelisk, dated to the reign of Assur-bel-kala, and the 
White Obelisk, showing scenes of war and tribute and ascribed to Assurnasirpal 
I or II. 

Campbell Thompson and Hutchinson excavated a small palace in the center 
of Kiiyunjik on the citadel mound. Because inscriptions of Assurnasirpal II were 
discovered everywhere in the palace, the building was assigned to his reign 
(Campbell Thompson and Hutchinson 1931). The architecture was badly pre- 
served. The walls were made of baked brick, with painted decoration showing 
rosettes, figures, and the Icing. Fragments of two obelisks with tribute scenes were 
found, as well as many painted terracotta orthostats, probably the precursors of 
marble orthostats. These show scenes of war and tribute and the Icing with mural 
crown (representing a city wall). This was likely one of the palaces where Assur- 
nasirpal lived before his palace at Assur was renovated and long before he moved 
to Nimrud in the 19th year of reign. The building was restored by his successors 
Shalmaneser III, Shamshi-Adad V, and Adad-nirari III. 

The Nabu temple was founded by Adad-nirari III (Campbell Thompson 
1929). The architecture of the Ishtar and Nabu temples is poorly documented. 
The latter stood on a high terrace and had the shape of an irregular quadrangle. 
It was extended and rebuilt by Sargon II and Assurbanipal. Until the reign of 
Sennacherib these two temples were the most important buildings on the 

After Sennacherib moved to Nineveh from his father's capital Khorsabad, he 
began a major building program. The circuit of the city wall was extended from 
5 to 12 kilometers, 15 gates were built or renovated, and the city was given new 
infrastructure in the form of new roads, a canal system, and a park. Besides a 
palace in the eastern part of the citadel, the most important building was the 
large new palace, the so-called Southwest Palace covering the southern part of 
the citadel. According to Sennacherib himself, the building measured 503 x 242 
meters and was the largest palace in Assyrian history. Named in Assyrian the 
"Palace without Rival" (Russell 1991), it was inaugurated in 694 BC. To date, 
however, the northern and northwestern areas of the palace are completely 
unknown. The architecture is reminiscent of Sargon's palace at Khorsabad, but 
there is a new element of symmetry and visual permeability. The throne room 
lies in the northeast and the courtyards are surrounded by state apartments, in a 
double or triple row of rooms. The outer walls on the southwestern and south- 

The Assyrian Heartland 865 

eastern sides seem to have disappeared. A second large gate was found in the 
southwestern side, but the access route from tiiere to the center of the palace is 
unclear. The wing in the northwest has gone, but there are indications of at least 
one further courtyard. The excavated architecture of the palace belongs to the 
official part, whereas the domestic quarters were not found. 

The gates of the state apartments were flanked by lamassus and the rooms 
were decorated with relief stone slabs of extraordinary quality, showing narrative 
scenes, mainly of war, now in the British Museum (Barnett et al. 1998; Nadali 
2006). The orthostats are systematically arranged. In the throne room and the 
adjacent courts and rooms, Sennacherib's first military operations to the east, 
west, and south (Babylonia) are shown. These are repeated in detail in the wings 
beyond. Early in his reign, Sennacherib's grandson Assurbanipal lived in this 
palace. Half of his library, found in rooms XL and XLI, was probably originally 
stored in the floor above. 

Another important complex built by Sennacherib was the arsenal on the east 
side of Nebi Yunus. Because of the presence of a later Islamic cemetery, this 
building complex has not been excavated and its plan is unknown, but, according 
to Sennacherib's reports, the arsenal consisted of one palace built in Assyrian style 
and another in Syrian style. Like Fort Shalmaneser at Nimrud, the complex was 
used as a military headquarters. It was extended by Sennacherib's son, Esarhad- 
don, whose own palace may be identified with a building about 100 meters east 
of the arsenal. 

Another large building complex at Nineveh is the so-called North Palace of 
Assurbanipal, excavated by Rassam and Loftus (Barnett 1976; Nadali 2006). 
Here they found a great number of excellent wall reliefs as well as the second 
half of Assurbanipal's library, altogether more than 25,000 cuneiform tablets, but 
the architecture is poorly preserved and the northeastern area is effectively 
unknown. The outer wall of the palace, the throne room with courtyard and 
some state apartments behind it, and a long corridor leading to a gate in the 
western corner are all preserved. This gate seems to be an entrance to a park, 
which is mentioned in several texts. The gates were not flanked by human headed 
winged colossi, the la-massu, and, although the palace is large, the size of the 
state apartments seems to be more modest than in the palaces of Assurbanipal's 
forefathers. On the other hand, the orthostats found here are amongst the best 
surviving works of art from the ancient Near East. The slabs in the throne room 
and the state apartments depict vivid scenes of war against the Egyptians, Elam- 
ites, Babylonians, and Arabs. The rooms beyond are decorated with orthostats 
showing the Icing in the park with servants and musicians, and in a series of scenes 
the Icing is shown hunting lions, gazelles, and onager. It is probable that these 
hunts took place in the park to the west of the palace. In 612 BC Nineveh was 
conquered by a coalition of Medes and Babylonians. This marked the end of the 
Assyrian empire, but the site was reoccupied in the Hellenistic, Arsacid, and 
Roman periods. 

866 The Archaeology of Empire 

8 Other Assyrian Sites in the Heartland 

Besides the Assyrian capitals and the other large, well-known Assyrian sites, there 
are many other settlements containing Middle and Neo-Assyrian material (Green 
1999; Altaweel 2008; Hausleiter 2010f: 183-7, 192-201). Most of these are 
small and excavations have been limited, so that only a few preliminary findings 
have been published. These include sites like Tell as-Sidr (Shakir 2005-6), Kaula 
Kandal (El Amin and Mallowan 1949, 1950), Qasr Shamamuk (Anastasio 2005), 
Khirbet Khatuniya (Curtis and Green 1997), Qasrij Cliff and Khirbet Qasrij 
(Curtis 1989b), Khirbet Hatara (Fiorina 1997), Tell Jigan (Fujii 1987), and Tell 
Rijm (Green 1999: 97-9). Northwest of Tell Rijim are some sites along the 
western bank of the Tigris with Assyrian material like Khirbet Karhasan, Tell Abu 
Dhahir, and Khirbet Shireena, and west of the Assyrian heardand Tell Taya and 
Tell al-Rimah have evidence of Neo-Assyrian occupation as well. Toward the 
eastern border of Assyria the town of Erbil (ancient Arbela), where a Neo- 
Assyrian tomb was found, must be noted. A Neo-Assyrian tomb dating to the 
7th century BC (Hausleiter 2010f: 192-3), with a rich inventory of pottery and 
bronze vessels, was also found c.25 kilometers northwest of Nineveh on the west 
bank of the Tigris (Ibrahim and Amin Agha 1983). 


For an overview of 11 years of constant excavations (1903-14) at Assur, see Andrae 
(1977[1938]). The catalogue of a major exhibition on Assur at the Vorderasiatisches 
Museum (Pergamon) Berlin also provides a good overview of the work at Assur (Marzahn 
and Salje 2003). For a detailed overview of the German excavations in Kar-Tukulti- 
Ninurta, see EickhofF (1985). Mallowan (1966) presents the most important results of 
the British excavations at Nimrud, and for a survey of 150 years of work at the site, see 
Oates and Oates (2001). The well-known bronze bands of the Balawat palace gates of 
Shalmaneser III are described systematically in Schachner (2007). Curtis and Tallis (2008) 
fills a gap, because there the bronze bands of a palace and a temple at Balawat, erected 
by Assurnasirpal II, are published the first time in detail with excellent drawings. Albenda 
(1986) investigates the relief slabs of S argon's palace in Khorsabad, in particular their 
placement at the walls and the different topics of the scenes. The book includes many of 
the original drawings of Botta and Flandin. Caubet (1995) is a collection of interesting 
studies on the French investigations at Khorsabad. Matthiae (1998) is a very good resume 
of the history of the Assyrian capitals with a focus on Nineveh, describing all the important 
buildings, with many good plans and photographs. Russell (1991) is a detailed study of 
Sennacherib's "Palace without Rival" at Nineveh.